3D Printing in Medicine: The Need to Know
No, 3D printing is not a fad. It has come to stay. And it is only getting better.
While for consumers it is mostly used to make decorative objects or to replace parts when needed, many companies have already integrated it into their design process, creating useful prototypes in a matter of days.
But where 3D printing really shines is in medicine. This is not something from the “far future”, this is the state of the art.
Ever watched the famous Anime movie Ghost in the Shell? That about The Avengers : Age of Ultron – MCU? Where a conscious mind can be added to a body made of various metals assembled at a molecular level. We are getting there.
With 3D printing, you have a great balance between customization, cost, and production time. Although most of the materials available to consumers aren’t very strong, medical companies have access to many materials and technologies that when combined in unique ways create the platform that opens creative solutions to the challenges currently being faced, this includes 3D printers that use titanium.
Prosthetics are now becoming both more functional and more artistic, it is fast becoming easier, more cost effective and efficient to create and manufacture a unique one from the ground-up.
If instead of replacing a body part currently one needs to replace either a part of or an entire bone, 3D printing can help with bone replacement. As previously mentioned, there are 3D printers that can print titanium. Titanium is a bio-compatible material, meaning that human tissue can connect with it, instead of considering it a foreign body and rejecting it.
Traditional manufacturing methods tend to waste a lot of energy and are extremely inefficient, This is due to the process where the metal first needs to be melted at high heat in order to give it a shape using molds, which are too challenging and very expensive to create. Thereafter cutting and diamond polishing until the final form is achieved. Metal 3D printing just melts the metal powder directly into the desired shape, requiring only little polishing afterwards, so it is much cheaper.
This means that objects that require a lot of titanium, like bones, will be both cheaper and quicker to manufacture in the near future, even considering that titanium is one of the toughest and expensive metals we have access to.
Physical medical models
Surgeries is a rather difficult task. It becomes even more challenging considering that it is mostly a task where one does not know what to expect. Humans have a roughly consistent anatomy, but there is always an anomaly, a variation, especially when illnesses are involved. When attempting surgery that is critical for the life of the patient involved, there is no greater privilege, responsibility, and risk management. It makes one wonder why all medical professions are called a ‘practice’.
What if surgeons could practice the surgery on a customized model of the patient’s anatomy? That would surely make things easier, wouldn’t it?
With 3D printing, a CT scan of a body part can be transformed into reality. High-end 3D printers come in many different sizes and can use a multitude of materials and material colors, the ideal result will be as close to reality as possible. And it will keep getting better.
3D printing is here to stay and thankfully so. It is bound to make everything much faster and cheaper to create, the rate of technology acceleration is growing exponentially. It will not take long for it to reach that point and who knows, perhaps faster than expected.